Henryk Arnold, born in 1936
With Weapon in Hand
I was born on July 18, 1930, at 3 Szkarpowa Street in Lwów. My mother was Fryderyka, née Beigel (b. 1910), and my father was Leon Arnold (b. 1910). My maternal grandparents were owners of a restaurant in Lwów. They died relatively young, leaving orphaned, in addition to my mother, her two brothers, Jakub and Jan. My father’s parents, Wilhelm and Anna Arnold, owned a large restaurant in Lwów that faced the courthouse building on Batory Street. It was a well-known restaurant; its clients were mostly lawyers and judges. Grandpa Wilhelm was a very strong man. He was known for having once won a fight with a professional wrestler, for which he received as a prize ten Austrian crowns. His wife, Anna, was a modest and pious person.
My parents owned an auto parts store. My father was an avid sportsman. He participated in wrestling, track-and-field sports, and soccer. He played on the Jewish soccer team Hasmonea. His siblings, two brothers and four sisters, were:
Dawid—an attorney who fought in the ranks of the Austro-Hungarian army and was killed near Lwów in 1914.Ksawery Albert—who worked at the post office in Puławy. During the German occupation he took part in the underground resistance. He was arrested and murdered by the Gestapo in August 1942.
The Gestapo, short for Geheime Staatspolizei, was the German secret police, known for its brutality.
Cecylia—a physician in Brzuchowice near Lwów. Lidia—owner of a pharmacy in Magierów near Lwów. Fryderyka—a dressmaker in Lwów.
These three sisters died in 1943 during the liquidation of the Lwów ghetto.
The fourth sister, Stefania, worked in an oil company in Lwów; she was taken in 1942 to the death camp in Bełżec.
Bełżec was a death camp in southeastern Poland where 600,000 Jews were killed.
My childhood was very happy. A governess took care of me. I often traveled with my father. We went to Warsaw, Kraków, Łódź, and Gdynia. Our whole family spent our vacations together by the seaside, or in Krynica or Rabka. We were emotionally very close. I remember a prophetic dream that my mother told me about in 1938. She dreamed that someone had shot her in the head and that she fell into a dark cellar. This may well be what happened to her when the Germans executed her in Warsaw in 1942.
I began my education in 1937 at the Rutkowski Grammar School, taking an additional language course in Ukrainian. After Lwów was occupied by the Russians, I studied in a Ukrainian school, taking an additional course in Russian—until the Germans entered in 1941.
During the Soviet occupation, the Jews were not singled out for persecution. Soldiers often came to my father’s store to buy auto parts. They warned him that his store would be confiscated. Because of this [warning], he was able to carry away many items and hide them in a safe place. After the store was liquidated, he was employed at the Krasnyi Transportnik
Soviet occupation – the Soviets occupied eastern Poland from September 17, 1939, until June 30, 1941.
shipping company. At the same time, he was secretly selling the auto parts he had hidden, thus earning additional money to support the family.
At that time, many Polish Jews were escaping from the German occupation zone to the Soviet zone. In the summer of 1940, the Soviet occupation authorities shipped many of them deep into the USSR. The militia would surround houses and search for refugees. As fate would have it, nearly all of these people survived the war and returned afterward to Poland. Later most of them emigrated to Israel.
When the Germans attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, the wives of the officers who lived nearby, hearing the artillery fire, thought it was the British bombing Lwów.
The Germans entered Lwów eight days later on June 30, 1941. The next day everyone had to hand over their radio sets. By chance, the Germans stopped Father while he was carrying a radio. He was put in prison on Kazimierzowska Street. Corpses of Ukrainian nationalists killed by the NKVD [Soviet secret police] were strewn about in the cells. In the prison courtyard were lying many bodies of Jews killed by Ukrainians. Jews were also being killed in the city; a pogrom was raging. Father managed to get out of jail by giving a bribe.
Later, Father got a job (and most important, papers) as a worker at a German military garage (Heereskraftpark—HKP for short), which protected him from arrest and being sent to a camp. In November 1941 we had to leave our apartment and move to 18 Tkacka Street. This house was located in a section of the Jewish quarter that the Germans had not closed off. In addition to Jews, many Poles and Ukrainians lived there, and even a few Germans.
The Jewish quarter was located north of the railroad line. Near it was the only crossing point for Jews. Two others were for use only by Poles, Ukrainians, and Germans. German police patrolling these crossings often stopped older Jews. They were then sent in an unknown direction
—as it turned out later, to the death camp in Bełżec. It was rumored that in Warsaw and in Lublin, special groups were active, murdering Jews. There was talk of mass murders in Bełżec, but Jews did not want to believe it. They could not comprehend that Germans were killing them only because they were Jews.
Although Jewish children ten years and older were required to wear armbands with the Star of David, I, to spite the Germans, tried to avoid wearing mine. Various rumors circulated in the city. There was talk that in Warsaw and Lublin special units were active, the so-called Himmelkommando, murdering Jews or shipping them to death camps.
Everybody had heard about Bełżec, but not everybody wanted to believe these reports. The occupation authorities introduced precise record keeping for the Jewish population. Father, as a worker at a military garage, obtained a document with the stamp INDISPENSABLE TO THE GERMAN ARMY. Mother also had an appropriate document classifying her as WIFE OF A PERSON INDISPENSABLE TO THE GERMAN ARMY. I, as a child, was
not eligible for any documents or stamps, which greatly worried my parents.
At six o’clock in the morning on August 10, 1942, we got word that the entire Jewish quarter was surrounded by the SS and German and Ukrainian police. A mass deportation of Jews from Lwów had begun. Father was able to get out of the surrounded area in a Wehrmacht [regular German army] truck driven by a Pole. I was hidden in the back.
The SS – short for Schutzstaffel, was an elite military unit of the Nazi party that served as a special police force; also called “Black Shirts”.
We avoided being deported, but we could not stay in the Jewish quarter any longer. My parents decided to hide me with their friends, a Polish family who lived at 8 Kościelna Street, in the same building where we had once lived. From the windows of my hideout, I could see streetcars packed with Jews being taken to the camp on Janowska Street, where the selection took place. Young and healthy men were sent to work, while the rest—women, the elderly, the sick and children—were taken to the death camp in Bełżec. There were searches for Jews on the Aryan side as well, where many Jewish families still lived. Apartments of Poles began to be checked for hidden Jews. Sheltering them was punishable by death. One day two SS men burst into the apartment where I was hiding. They started searching in the attic, where my host, Mrs. Adamczewska, raised chickens. Satisfied with the fresh eggs they found there, they gave up searching further. The frightened landlady demanded that I leave the apartment immediately. I had to return to my parents, to the ghetto.
Janowska Street – Janowska/Janowski was a labor and extermination camp on the outskirts of Lwów (now Lviv, Ukraine) where 40,000 Jews were killed.
Selection – a “selection” was the separation of those fit to work from those to be killed.
Aryan side – the Aryan side refers to the area outside the ghetto, where only non-Jews were permitted to live.
Meanwhile, the document that protected my mother expired. She managed to avoid deportation by hiding in the attic during moments of danger. My hideout was the cellar of the HKP garage. I used to hide on a shelf with old tires and other junk. Father, who was still working, brought food to me.
All the Jews who were still hiding in Lwów disappeared into their hideouts during the day. At night they came out in search of water and food. The Germans organized searches and tried to uncover their hiding places. The deportation action ended in August 1942.
In anticipation of further deportations, we decided to move to Warsaw, where we had some friends and where nobody knew us. We left Lwów on September 8, 1942, on a truck carrying furniture that belonged to a Polish acquaintance. When we passed by Bełżec, we smelled the stench of decaying bodies. That smell has tormented me to this day.
As it turned out later, this was indeed the last chance to leave Lwów, because on October 17, 1942, the Jewish quarter was surrounded by barbed wire and closed off. The Lwów ghetto existed until June 1943.
In Warsaw we found shelter at 18 Wspólna Street, in an apartment owned by a Polish woman who was hiding more than a dozen Jews. An acquaintance, Mr. Drut, secured false documents for us under the name Rudziński. I was changed into Ryszard, born in Kołomyja on December 18, 1930, son of Józef. My mother’s maiden name was turned into Ziółkowska.
For security reasons, we were forced to split up. Father moved in with Mr. Alfons Karny, a well-known sculptor, at 67 Wspólna Street. Mother and I went to live on Śliska Street at the home of Mrs. Wanda Melfior-Rutkowska, a writer. Her husband was an officer in the Polish Armed Forces and was stationed in England. We lived peacefully for several weeks, but it was an illusory peace that ended in tragedy.
In order to support ourselves, we sold things we had brought with us from Lwów. In October 1942 Mother went to 18 Wspólna Street, where she was supposed to meet Father and talk over the sale of a fur coat that she had put in storage. Several other Jews were there at the time. Suddenly, the Gestapo appeared. My father managed to escape. All the other Jews, including my mother, were arrested, taken to the prison on Szucha Avenue, and later shot.
In order to remain in hiding, we had to immediately move to another place. For several days after Mother’s arrest, we hid in Podkowa Leśna, and later in Milanówek, at the home of Mrs. Dręgiewicz. There our ways parted. I returned again to Mrs. Rutkowska’s place on Śliska Street, and Father returned to Wspólna to stay with Mr. Karny. However, these were not safe hiding places. I finally found relative peace at the apartment of Olga Dudziec on Krakowskie Przedmieście Street, where I stayed for a month.
Later, Father and I moved to the Wola district, where we stayed with a man named Feliks (I do not remember his last name). It was a miserable hovel, without light or running water. It was an unlucky place. After several weeks, we were discovered by szmalcownicy [blackmailers], who demanded a ransom. Father gave them 1300 złotys, but they searched us and found dollars that were sewn in my jacket. During a scuffle, my father grabbed a knife, and screaming, “Mr. Feliks, help us!” he threw himself at them. I managed to put out the oil lamp. The blackmailers ran away. Because of the police curfew, we had to spend the night in the “burned” apartment.
1300 złotys – the złoty is the unit of Polish currency.
“burned” apartment – a “burned” apartment was one that was no longer safe.
In the morning, my father ripped the dollars out of my jacket. At six in the morning we went out on the street, but they were already waiting for us. While Father engaged them in conversation, I tried to escape. They caught me, and after checking that I did not have the money, they called a blue-uniformed [Polish] policeman. He declared that the matter should be taken to the Gestapo and walked away. My tormentors also gave up and left.
Sneaking around and checking whether anyone was following me, I went back to the home of Mrs. Olga Dudziec. Father found shelter with Mr. Karny.
Mrs. Dudziec lived with her ten-year-old nephew, whose father was a Volksdeutscher. He attended a German school, and there was danger that he might tell someone there about the boy who lived with them who did not attend school. In this situation, we decided that I should move in with Father. Our fears soon proved to be justified. One day the Gestapo came to the apartment of Mrs. Dudziec. By chance, Father just happened to be there, but he managed to hide in a cubby.
A Volksdeutscher/Volksdeutsche was a Polish man/woman of German origin who received extra privileges by declaring loyalty to Germany.
Mr. Karny rented a room for us from a friend of his, a painter. When our host was not there, we had to remain inside, locked up. We constantly had to change our place of stay. We moved to Kolejowa Street, but we had to escape from there in January 1943. Later we found shelter at the home of a sister of Mr. Feliks, who himself had meanwhile died of tuberculosis. In the same apartment lived a certain Mietek who sent a blackmailer after us.
Father had six hundred złotys. The blackmailer showed mercy—he took only four hundred złotys from him, leaving the rest. We had to be on the run again. For two days we slept on chairs in the home of a Mrs. Filipska, from whom father used to buy auto parts before the war. Father returned to Mr. Karny, and I moved in with Mrs. Kwiatkowska, who was a neighbor of Mrs. Dudziec on Krakowskie Przedmieście Street.
April 1943 came. The uprising broke out in the ghetto. German patrols roamed through the city searching for hidden Jews. In the building where Mrs. Dudziec lived was the office of her sister Zosia’s lover. Zosia’s husband was in the Polish army in England. Zosia told my father that she knew someone who would hide me for two weeks for fifteen hundred złotys.
He gave her the money she requested. She told me to meet her at 7:45 P.M. near Trzech Krzyży Square. I suspected something, because it was too close to the police curfew of 8 P.M. I arrived at the agreed spot at 7 P.M. and waited until 7:55. Luckily, Mr. Karny lived nearby at 67 Wspólna Street. I managed to get there just before the gate was locked and spent the night in the trash bin.
It turned out later that Zosia had told me to meet her so late on purpose, counting on my getting caught for breaking curfew, so she could keep the money for herself. I was already so desperate from continuously having to seek shelter that I considered jumping out of the fourth-floor window. However, Father persuaded me to try to find shelter with Mr. Stanisław Fajkus in Podkowa Leśna. Mr. Fajkus agreed to hide us in his attic, which was accessible only by ladder. We could only spend nights there, because there were too many searches during the day. Thus we spent our nights in the attic and our days roaming the streets of Podkowa or Warsaw. Once, around 3:00 A.M., we heard, “Aufmachen! Licht!” [Open up! Turn on the light!] I told Father, “Grab a crowbar and strike whoever comes in.” “No, they’ll beat and torture us,” he responded. We heard someone placing the ladder against the attic’s trapdoor. Mr. Fajkus’s face appeared gray with fright. “Run away, the police are at the landlady’s!” We jumped into the garden from Fajkus’s kitchen and got through the barbed-wire fence and into the field. Father no longer had his shoes on, and I cut myself going through the barbed-wire fence. After some time, we returned. It turned out that the Germans had not come for us but to the landlady’s. She was hiding a Jewish family—who managed to bribe their way out.
The mounting terror made it necessary to continuously change our place of stay. For a time I lived in Żoliborz with Mr. Wajsman and his family, who were also Jews in hiding. Their landlady did not know about their origins and had no idea at all that I was living there for over four months. I could go to the toilet only at night. The landlady saw me in September 1943, and I had to leave. I moved in with Father, who was staying with Mrs. Tosia on Królewska Street. She suspected that we were Jewish but was not sure. She told us one time, “If it turns out that you are Jews, I’ll chop off your heads with an ax at night and take them to the Gestapo.” We had to flee.
Father rented a room from Mr. Sankowski at 14 Krzywe Koło Street, and I returned again to Mr. Karny. My stay at his place was limited to nighttime only, and I spent my days wandering aimlessly around Warsaw. This was very dangerous because of the inspections, roundups, and blackmailers. One day, two streetcars came up, one right behind the other. I got into the first one. It turned out to be sheer luck, because the second one got stopped by an SS unit, and all the passengers were arrested. Finally, as a result of Father’s insistence, Mr. Fajkus agreed to have me spend nights at his place in Podkowa Leśna. However, I had to take the train to Warsaw every day at 6:30 A.M. I used to get out at Nowogrodzka Street. There was a clinic nearby where I had once been treated for an eye infection. I would let everyone in line get ahead of me, which allowed me to sit in the warm waiting room for a few hours. I spent most of my time on streetcars, riding them from dawn to dusk.
In December 1943 Father found me a hideout on Nowy Świat Street with Mr. Brudziński, a photographer and a very decent human being. Father paid him fifty złotys a day, which was about half the going rate. Once I got caught by his landlady, who had a key to his single room. I told Mr. Brudziński about it, and he got very worried. “She is dangerous, because she has a loose tongue,” he said. But the next day the woman had a stroke and was taken to the hospital, where she died.
From January 1944 until the start of the Warsaw Uprising, Father and I lived together at Mr. Sankowski’s on Krzywe Koło Street. He and his wife did not know that we were Jews. In the morning, we would leave the house—I, supposedly to school, Father, supposedly to work.
At the end of July, it became clear that the Germans were retreating under pressure from the Russians. This gave us great joy. An acquaintance of my father, Mr. Hilczyński, gave him a key to the apartment at 18 Wspólna Street, where my mother had been arrested. “Your son can sleep there.”
This is where I was when the uprising began. To complete the picture, I must add that father was blackmailed several times by szmalcownicy. In the summer of 1943, when I was staying with Mr. Wajsman, Mietek from Kolejowa Street brought with him some blackmailers and an SS man who wanted to shoot Father, but Father promised him a fur coat in exchange for his life. Father led him to a house on Krakowskie Przedmieście Street that he knew had a rear exit from the stairwell. Father, who used to wrestle in his youth, gave the SS man a heavy blow. When he fell, Father escaped through the rear exit. Another time two blue-uniformed Polish policemen stopped Father in the Old Town. They were easily bribed, though.
…“the uprising began” – this is the Warsaw Uprising, which began in August 1944, not the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
Starting in January 1944 we received fifteen hundred złotys a month from the Żegota organization. This assistance, without a doubt, made it possible for us to survive in hiding.
Żegota was a branch of the Polish underground organized to give assistance to Jews.
On August 1, 1944, shooting began in the streets. The uprising had begun. At first, I did not know whether it was the Russians who had entered the city and were fighting in the streets or whether the Germans were shooting at civilians. I went outside. Barricades were being erected in the streets.
German tanks were rolling down Jerozolimskie Avenue. The police surrounded houses on Wspólna and St. Barbara Streets. The inhabitants were being evicted and murdered.
I immediately decided to report to the AK [Armia Krajowa] as a volunteer and take part in the fight against the Germans, to take revenge for the years of suffering, for the deaths of my loved ones. However, it was not at all easy for a fourteen-year-old boy to become a soldier. Mr. Kazimierz Mojsiejuk, an underground activist, helped me in this. I was accepted by the Home Army, in the Fifty-ninth Communications Platoon, where I got my alias—Ryś. Our commander was Second Lieutenant Roman Grodzki (alias Roman), and his deputy was Second Lieutenant Alfred Kazanowski (alias Teodor). At first, the platoon was stationed at the dairy plant on Hoża Street.
AK [Armia Krajowa], known in English as the Home Army, was the organized underground army in Poland that reported to the Polish government-in-exile in London. Its commander was General Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski.
We were then moved to Widok Street and assigned to maintain communications between the AK headquarters and the various insurgent units. Around September 10, at Colonel Monter’s orders, Teodor’s squad, to which I belonged, was assigned to guard General Bór’s headquarters at the so-called little PAST [Polish Telephone Corporation] building on Piękna Street.
To this day I remember the first shot fired in my direction. The bullet passed just by my leg. It came from one of the “pigeon keepers”, German snipers, hidden on the rooftops of houses in the districts controlled by the insurgents. My squad protected the AK headquarters and those fighting near Bracka Street and on Jerozolimskie Avenue. At that time the Germans controlled the main railroad station on Towarowa Street and the Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego [BGK—National Economy Bank] at the intersection of Jerozolimskie and Nowy Świat. As a liaison, I was often at combat outposts. At that time Father was staying at 7 Poznańska Street. I often got a pass and could visit him there at night. I always carried a grenade with me. I felt safer that way. One night I got stopped by a patrol of the insurgent military police and had to spend a long time explaining what I was doing on the street at night with a grenade in my pocket.
After the fall of the Old Town, the Germans attacked the riverbank, which soon also fell, and its defenders had to retreat to the center of the city. It was then that the SS Dirlewanger units, commanded by SS Oberführer Oskar Dirlewanger, moved in from the riverbank toward Nowy Świat Street.
These units were composed of criminals. The attack was conducted with heavy air support. I found myself in a group of twenty-three insurgents assigned to fend off the attack. Because I was the youngest in the unit, I served as a paramedic, together with two nurses. Passing around through the back of Nowy Świat, near Górski Street, we chanced onto a courtyard full of dead bodies. They were mostly women whose faces were covered with newspapers. One of the nurses accompanying me couldn’t bear the sight emotionally and broke down, sobbing terribly.
When we calmed her down a little, we heard screams from the adjoining building. We walked in and found ourselves inside the hall of a movie theater that was on fire. A civilian who had been wounded in the stomach was lying on the floor. He must have been suffering terribly, because when we were carrying him out, he was still screaming and cursing everyone, even blaming us and the uprising for his wounds. We carried the wounded man to the nearby Górski Gymnasium. In its hallway lay bodies of girls killed by the Germans.
From September 7 on, I was stationed at Górski Street. We didn’t know exactly where the German positions were. One day we noticed two insurgents escaping through a garden that bordered on Warecka Street.
The Germans managed to set up a machine gun and opened fire at them. They killed one of them. The other one was wounded, and they took him prisoner. This is when Lieutenant Giewont (Jerzy Stawski), the platoon’s second-in-command, gave the order to capture the machine gun. During our attempted attack, we encountered heavy fire. At a certain point, Lieutenant Giewont was wounded in the head. Realizing the Germans had a big advantage, he ordered us to retreat and to leave him where he was. We did not obey the order, however, and managed to carry our commander through a hole in the wall and out of the range of the German weapon. We later got through to the Górski Gymnasium building.
I often stood watch with twenty-two-year-old Private Gałganek (Stefan Jędrzejczak). He had an uneasy premonition and constantly repeated that he was going to die. Indeed, one day while on watch in a garret, he was hit by a sniper from the Dirlewanger brigade.
There were also humorous incidents. One time each of us got a can of sardines. We prepared sandwiches and were about to eat them when a Stuka bomber dived over our positions and dropped a bomb. Because the explosion was delayed several seconds, I thought we were done for and felt regret that the sardines were going to go to waste. I swallowed them quickly. Luckily, nobody got hurt, but the blast of air was so powerful that everybody’s sardines fell to the ground, and we had to be satisfied with dry bread. The bomb made a sizable crater a few meters from our position.
Delivering reports to the main post office was one of our most dangerous missions. We had to make our way through places barely ten
to twenty meters from the German positions.
One of my fellow soldiers, Zbyszek—despite being lightly wounded himself—shot an approaching German, wounded him in the knee, and took him prisoner. While interrogating him, we found out about the “Goliaths”, newly introduced into battle. From our insurgent newsletters we learned that the Allies had recognized us as soldiers, and we were thus subject to the Geneva convention which forbade killing prisoners. We were very skeptical whether the Germans would abide by these principles.
The “Goliaths” were powerful German mines that could be automatically detonated from a distance.
The Germans began to bomb our positions from the air. As a result, a group of insurgents in the shelters inside the railroad tunnel running along Jerozolimskie Avenue got buried. Some of them perished. We were given an order to get through to the men who were buried. In order to accomplish this, we had to make our way through an area exposed to German fire from the BGK building. Paying no heed, we tried to get to the buried men to give them help. Several attempts, including one by a team led by Second Lieutenant Antoni Bieniaszewski (Antek), failed. The Germans shot at the insurgents who were trying to break through. I volunteered. I knew the area well and knew where the Germans were shooting from. I got through without drawing their attention. Approaching the ruins, I heard cries of “Help, we’re buried!” I was able to establish voice contact with the buried insurgents and inform them that we knew about their situation but that it would be impossible to help them during the day. I tried to reassure them, telling them that help would surely come at nightfall. This is exactly what happened, and those who had survived were rescued.
After we returned, I set out toward Jerozolimskie Avenue with another soldier, both of us equipped with bottles filled with gasoline. A tank was rolling along the street. My dream of getting revenge against the assassins, while winning a medal for valor at the same time, seemed within reach.
After firing several shots in a row, the tank turned back toward the German positions. We had to give up further action. The same day I was given another assignment, to deliver a bucket of tomato soup to insurgents cut off from supplies. Going over a pile of bricks, I suddenly found myself under fire from the BGK building. I scooted down on my rear end, with half of the soup landing on my uniform. I then sat in a bomb crater with a firefighter’s helmet on my head, yelling to our guys after every shot, “I’m still alive!”
On the evening of September 9, I was standing watch about a hundred meters from the Germans in the BGK building. I saw a searchlight about one hundred fifty to two hundred meters away from me that was trying to pick out the positions of the insurgents. I tried to take a location directly opposite it. I shot in the direction of the searchlight, and it went out.
There remains in my memory of this period the horrifying vision of Warsaw streets full of human remains and wounded and crying people. I remember an artillery barrage during which I hid on the second floor of the nearest building. A shell partially destroyed the staircase. Walking out, I nearly slipped on a corpse lying on the stairs. On another occasion, going to meet my father, I came across a courtyard full of dead bodies of men and women.
Some kind hand had covered their heads with newspapers. I was terribly worried that Father might be among them, but fortunately my fears were unfounded. He had hidden in a cellar and, thanks to that, survived.
Two days later I fell ill and went to a pharmacy on Hoża Street that was still operating. As I waited in a long line, we heard the howling of a diving Stuka. People began to crowd into the entryway, screaming. A moment later, there was a strong tremor; beams began falling down from the ceiling, wounding many people. One of the falling beams hit my spine. To this day I feel pain, most likely because of this. It turned out that the bomb had fallen on the neighboring house, killing about fifty people.
The last mission in which I took part was to conceal the documents of the AK headquarters. They were buried in the cellar of the PAST building on Pius XI Street. The documents of my platoon, the Fifty- ninth Communications, were buried in a separate container. These documents are probably still there. A parking lot is at that location now.
Pius XI Street is now called Piękna Street.
On October 5, 1944, the day of surrender, I was with my platoon near Marszałkowska Street. My father, who had joined me by then, and I were both terrified at the prospect of falling into the grasp of the Germans. I could have left Warsaw with the civilian population, but I did not want to leave my comrades-in-arms. My decision was also influenced by the fact that the insurgents were under the control of the Wehrmacht, while the civilians were under that of the Gestapo.
…“the day of surrender” – refers to the surrender of the insurgents of the Warsaw Uprising.
…“left Warsaw with the civilian population” – much of the civilian population of Warsaw, as punishment for having participated in the uprising, was forcibly moved out of the city to internment camps.I thus became a prisoner of war as a soldier of the fifty-ninth Communications Platoon, commanded at that time by Lieutenant Stanisław Jankowski (Agaton). Father was with me, to which he had the right, in accordance with an order allowing certain family members to join prisoners of war. This served to save those closest to us from the hands of the Gestapo. Our farewell to Warsaw took place on Koszykowa Street, where we sang the national anthem. Many wept. Then the Eighth Company, commanded by General Bór, marched in style along Koszykowa to the Warsaw Polytechnic, where it laid down its arms. The officers were allowed to keep their swords, which was a sign of respect by the Germans for the bravery of the insurgents. Because we were not allowed to wear the captured German uniforms, most of the prisoners were dressed in civilian clothing.
My unit, guarded by soldiers of the Wehrmacht, was taken to Ożarów. Along the route of our march through Warsaw and beyond the city limits, people gathered and applauded us. The German escorts did not react. We spent the first night of our imprisonment in the hall of a cable factory. During the march, Father and I had an opportunity to escape, but we didn’t really have a place to which we could run. We thought about hiding in Podkowa Leśna with Mr. Fajkus, but that was too far. After the war we learned that German officers were stationed at his home at that time, so we could have fallen into a trap.
The next day a freight train rolled up, and we were herded into the wagons, more than fifty people in each. It was horribly crowded and stuffy. We took care of our bodily needs through a hole in the floor. We suffered from thirst. Despite our pleas, we were not given any water.
After dozens of hours of travel, we came to the town of Lamsdorf (presently Łambinowice) near Opole. After being forced by the Germans to run eight kilometers, we found ourselves at a prisoner-of-war camp, Stalag 344. During this run, we witnessed a midair collision of two German airplanes, which raised our spirits tremendously. In the camp, those under eighteen years old were segregated. I was once again separated from my father, although we could still see each other.
In Lamsdorf, at age fourteen, I was registered as prisoner number 103226, as a Warsaw Uprising soldier named Ryszard Rudziński, born on December 18, 1930, in Kołomyja, a Pole, the son of Józef and Ziółkowska, all in accordance with my false documents. From the surviving documents from Lamsdorf, it is apparent that I was one of the youngest prisoners there.
Camp life was incredibly harsh. Hunger, inhuman sanitary conditions, freezing cold (it was already fall), and roll calls that lasted for hours dominated our lives. My companions treated me well. I was liked, because due to my sharp memory, I remembered and recited verses, not always decent, to everyone’s amusement.
On November 19 Father was transferred to a camp in Żagań. Before leaving, he managed to pass on to me a can of sardines, which I don’t know how he obtained. The next day I was taken to Stalag IV B in Mühlberg, Saxony. We traveled several days, in better conditions than before. There were fewer people in the wagons, the train stopped several times, and we were given water. After several days, I was sent with a group of fifty prisoners to a glass factory in Brockwitz near Meissen, eighteen kilometers from Dresden. There I worked in a plant that manufactured land mines made out of glass, which could not be spotted by metal detectors. The same factory also assembled Messerschmitt Bf 109 F fighter airplanes, tractors, and artillery guns.
In Brockwitz our status was changed from prisoners of war to that of civilian laborers, and we were handed over to civilian authorities. Our food rations were very meager. In the morning we were given three slices of bread, twenty grams of sausage or processed meat, a spoonful of marmalade, and a mug of ersatz coffee. For our main meal we were given a bowl of soup. These were starvation rations. Twice we received Red Cross food packages. We also received American military coats from the Red Cross.
Despite our hunger and exhaustion, we were forced to work hard. We sorted broken glass and loaded and unloaded freight cars. In preparation for the approaching Soviet offensive, we dug trenches and antitank barricades. We suffered greatly from the cold. We worked about ten kilometers from the camp. If, after our return to camp, it turned out that any shovels or other tools were missing, the whole unit was forced to go back and find the forgotten equipment. Once while we were digging a trench, its wall collapsed on me, and I was buried with sand up to my neck.
The German officer who oversaw the work did not exactly rush to the rescue but yelled and threatened. Fortunately it ended with the yelling.
I clearly remember the day when, at the beginning of February 1945, the Allies bombed Dresden. We saw the glow of fires extending over the city.
One time we were sent to work in the field for a local peasant. The work was hard, and food was handed out very sparingly. Instead of soup, the farmer gave us water in which he had boiled his sausage. We complained to the non-commissioned officer who supervised us, and he scolded us for lying, because we “had it too good, while Germans were suffering.”
Not all Germans were hostile toward us. One example was a German woman, who, seeing how greedily we were devouring a pumpkin we had acquired somewhere, began yelling that starving prisoners was a scandal. She even wanted to go to the town hall to lodge a complaint, but I managed to persuade her not to, knowing from experience that this could have ended badly both for her and for us. We tried to somehow supplement our starvation rations. Red Cross packages were a big help. For a packet of coffee, we could either get ration cards for bread or lots of jars of pickled pumpkins, which was one of the few food items available for sale in unlimited quantities. Unfortunately, my stomach couldn’t handle such food in very large portions. One time a friend and I decided to go at night after a pile of swedes in a field, despite being warned of the threat of a death sentence for such escapades. We took six swedes each. Each of us ate one on the spot, and the others we tossed over the factory wall. We benefited only from the ones we ate, because someone stole the others, which we had hidden in the latrine.
In mid-April 1945 the Soviet offensive got under way. On the twenty- sixth of April, the first evacuation march of prisoners began. The first day we walked about fifty kilometers due south, escorted by a couple of teenagers from the Volkssturm. In the evening they announced that the war was lost, Hitler kaputt, and that they had had enough of it all and were going back home. We were left alone. At night we heard explosions; it was the Germans blowing up the bridge on the Elbe River.
Volkssturm [people’s militia] was a civilian corps of males age sixteen through sixty, recruited to defend Germany’s home soil.
For two days we camped out in the vicinity of a town called Glashütte. Our nourishment was potatoes we had bought with marks. On the first of May, coming back from a field with a friend, loaded down with potatoes, we ran into a peasant who told us that Hitler was dead. We headed toward the town in high spirits, but a member of the Volkssturm stopped us and led us at gunpoint to a military police post. There we got charged with stealing potatoes. As if all those years of terror had not happened, a report was drawn up, and a fine was levied. Since we had no money, our potatoes were taken from us, and we were set free.
Marks – German currency.
We soon found out that the British were already in Hamburg. It was clear that despite the fighting still going on, the war was over. On May 8 we went through heavy bombardment. While a German armored division was going through town, Soviet airplanes flew in and decimated the Germans. At the same time, they also bombed our column. Three among us were killed, and many were wounded. A horrifying image of starving former prisoners cutting a dead horse into pieces has stuck in my memory.
On May 9 a Russian officer rode through the railroad tunnel into town on a motorcycle. He rode through the streets and then turned back. Soon a lot of soldiers appeared, riding on horse-drawn carts. We ran up to them, embracing and kissing them. This was what my liberation looked like. My happiness was marred because I didn’t know what had happened to my father. To make matters worse, I had cut my foot on a broken glass, and I had to remain in Glashütte, despite the fact that my colleagues set out to return to their homes. Fortunately, one of them came back with a confiscated horse-drawn cart on which he loaded me and another insurgent, who was seriously wounded. We reached bombed-out Dresden. We left the wounded fellow in a military hospital there, and I rejoined the column.
A few words about Jews in Brockwitz. Among the fifty prisoners, there were four Jews besides me:
Paweł Borkowski (alias Cwaniak)
Zenon Borkowski, his brother (alias Miki), decorated with the Cross of Valor. Their real last name was Hochman. During the occupation they sold newspapers; after the war they left for Israel.
“Pistolet” [Pistol], whose real name I don’t know. After the war he remained in the American zone and encountered my father, who learned from him that I was alive.
Eugeniusz Krawczyk (alias Żbik) was a mute. I don’t know what happened to him.
In our fifty-man group no one was older than sixteen. They all knew we were Jews. Most of them behaved very decently, but some are inscribed in my memory as having behaved very poorly. They threatened that they would go to the Gestapo and expose us. They beat me. I couldn’t defend myself; I was very depressed about being separated from my father. As luck would have it, the two worst ones got killed in the bombing. Some of the Germans in the factory knew about our origins. A Polish corporal, who had passed himself off as a cadet officer, was in charge of our group. He did not defend us. We were supervised by a German civilian named Franz Vycisk, who spoke Polish. He was a very decent person; I think he was a Communist. Several of the Russian prisoners also came to our defense.
The return to Poland took a long time. We walked toward the border for ten days. In Poland I managed to reach Kalisz by hitching a ride on a passing truck and from there got to Warsaw by train. I found out that my father was alive, freed by the Americans.
At the Jewish Committee in Warsaw, I was told that in Helenówek, near Łódź, there was a home in which surviving Jewish children could find care. I was admitted there without difficulty. After so many years, I could return to my hidden Jewish identity and my real last name, Arnold. Because I was so used to it, I introduced myself with my alias from the uprising, so everyone in Helenówek called me Rysiek. And that’s how it has remained to this day. In Helenówek, I was able to continue my interrupted education. I was accepted to the first grade of the Stanisław Staszic Gymnasium in Zgierz. In spite of the interruption of several years, I quickly made up the lost time. I never stopped searching for contact with my father. I finally received a message through family in Switzerland that he was in Baden-Baden, the capital of the French occupation zone. I went from Helenówek to Wałbrzych. Later, thanks to contacts with various Jewish organizations that organized emigration to Palestine, I managed to leave Poland. Through Kłodzko, Nachod, Bratislava, Vienna, Linz, Salzburg, and Munich, I finally reached my father.
Stanisław Staszic Gymnasium – gymnasium/gimnazjum: Secondary school, corresponding at that time to American grades seven through ten.
Father continued to live in Baden-Baden, while I at first stayed in Brussels in a dormitory for Jewish children and later in Chelles near Paris. In the fall of 1947 I came to Baden-Baden, where I attended the French Gymnasium named for General de Gaulle. In 1950 I began medical studies in Strasbourg and completed them in 1956. I settled in Troyes, France. I worked in a hospital and had my own private medical practice. In 1984 I was awarded the Warsaw Uprising Cross by the Council of State. I have been retired since 1995 and am engaged in charitable work. Father died in November 1996.
Council of State – the Council of State was the name of the governing body of Poland after World War II.
The original Polish version of this chapter was prepared by Anna Cybulska- Piotrowska, based on the account of Henryk Arnold.